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Should Colleges Put Education, or Facilities, First?

Should Colleges Put Education, or Facilities, First?

‘Bread and circuses’—panem et circenses in Latin—refers to the practice of appeasing people by providing them with creature comforts like food and entertainment with the aim of winning their acclaim and (political) support. Rrather than trying to educate the public about why they were the better candidate, ancient Romans running for political office were known to hold public banquets, put on gladiatorial games, and otherwise appeal to the lower, ‘baser’ desires of the populace, to win elections.

Yes, it sounds familiar, though maybe it’s pizza and free tickets to Yankees games that are used today instead.

And it’s not only politicians who are at such practices. Colleges and universities in the US are also seeking to appeal to prospective students’ wishes for the likes of climbing walls and cafeterias offering a food court’s array of dining options. 

Education vs. Student Services
A recent New York Times article noted that, according to a study of government data, American colleges and universities are spending a ‘declining share’ of their budgets on instruction—on educating their students—and more on administration, recreational facilities and student services (intramural sports, career counseling centers, financial aid offices, student centers, and so forth). The report, ‘Trends in College Spending 1998-2008,’ was conducted by a Washington, D.C., non-profit, the Delta Cost Project, which advocates for greater scrutiny of college costs to keep higher education affordable for all Americans. 

Notes the New York Times article:

“This is the country-clubization of the American university,” said Richard K. Vedder, a professor at Ohio University who studies the economics of higher education. “A lot of it is for great athletic centers and spectacular student union buildings. In the zeal to get students, they are going after them on the basis of recreational amenities.”

On average, spending on instruction increased 22 percent over the decade at private research universities, about the same as tuition, but 36 percent for student services and 36 percent for institutional support, a category that includes general administration, legal services and public relations, the study said.

Spending on services spending has not only risen at private institutions, but also at public research institutions to the tune of 20 percent over the decade; spending on instruction has increased by 10 percent. At community colleges, spending on students services has increased by 9.5 percent, and only 3.4 percent for instruction.


The Consumerization of the American University?

It’s been said that American universities have become increasingly consumer-oriented. As schools vie for enrollments, it is not—it seems—the quality of the education and of teaching and the expertise and scholarship of professors that draws in students, but the quality of said student services. 


Perhaps it comes down to a question of what do we want colleges and universities to provide for students: The education and preparation they need to get a job and to prepare then for the rest of their lives, or just what they think (or might think) they want, ‘facilities’ and ‘services’ and, too, bread and circuses?


(Not that they may end up knowing what ‘bread and circuses,’ much less panem et circenses, means.)


(But do they need to know?)

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Photo by Berlin13407.

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7:01AM PDT on Aug 10, 2010

The state college I went to just became a University. The biggest difference, the price tag. They added what minimal programs they had to add to qualify for the University label. The quality of education has not improved, but the price tag has increased to make what was an affordable alternative for students to a traditional expensive local college. One has to ask what added benefits kids are getting for the University label on their diplomas? Many who could have afforded a college diploma without debt are now being forced out. This is all about the staff wanting to work for a University and being recognized by their peers. It is sad they could not appreciate the services they were offering students who were paying their way through college.

10:06PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010


5:48PM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

That explains the steady increases in tuition. The kids need to be LEARNING instead of playing XBOX in the student center. It's like they are trying to attract people with the promises of social recreation. That's not to say that it is a bad thing, but too much can be a distraction when the primary goal should be getting a valuable education. you can socialize without being in school and save the tuition! I HaTe iT WhEN PPl TyPe LiK DiS that are supposed to be in college or college graduates. It makes me ashamed to be a part of this generation of dummies.

2:24AM PDT on Jul 23, 2010


1:47PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

I know some colleges that do just that; buy all new furnishings & created sports teams to motivate students into enjoying their college experience but add courses to retain their services & $ longer & raise their prices to top it all off. Students often don't see past this cloud.

12:03PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Education needs to be the focus....its a shame that many schools, colleges and universities have become money making businesses that charge a whole lot of tuition fees and yet they produce idiots..what educational instituitions should be doing is to dissemenate quality education and discipline amongst men and women...

3:05PM PDT on Jul 20, 2010

It's not in our wealthy public servants' interest to have voters who are capable of independent thinking. James Baldwin, American author (1924-1987), "It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind."

5:23PM PDT on Jul 19, 2010

The state of America speaks volumes, just look at business government and the state of art and science.
We are importing medical staff from over sea because American students cant pass the courses or jobs are leaving because Americans are sloppy and poorly educated, We are graduating vain arrogant and ultimately expensive idiots.

12:38PM PDT on Jul 19, 2010

Our country cannot get much, education, education!!!!!!!

4:02PM PDT on Jul 18, 2010

Education should be first but hasn't been probably since the day they opened and that's truly sad! Thanks for info!

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